English 303Z
Fall, 1997
Instructor: Robert Yagelski


Guidelines for Responding to Your Classmates' Writing



What You'll Find on This Page:

Overview of Guidelines for Responding to Your Classmates' Writing

How Response Groups Work

Writing Responses to a Classmate's Draft

What to Write in a Response

Questions to Help You Respond Effectively to a Classmate's Draft

Special Guidelines for Responding to the Inquiry Project Drafts

A Recap of the Important Points in these Guidelines


Overview

Because this course is a writing workshop, its effectiveness depends in large part upon the interactions you and your classmates have regarding your writing. In other words, a very important part of your work in this course will be the discussion you have with other members of the class about your own writing and about their writing. It's essential that you share your responses to your classmates' work and listen to their responses to yours. Your growth as a writer will depend in part on your ability to learn from your classmates and to help them learn from you.

As the syllabus makes clear, you are required to submit written responses, or "critiques," to your classmates' writing-in-progress throughout the semester, and part of your grade for your portfolio will depend upon your fulfilling this requirement (see "Portfolio Guidelines"). Most of the time, these responses will be shared in response groups, which are groups of three or four students to which you'll be assigned and with whom you'll work as you move through each of the assigned writing tasks. Described below is the mechanism for sharing and submitting these responses.

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How Response Groups Work

During the second week of the semester, you'll be assigned to a response group composed of two or three classmates and yourself. You will probably work with this same response group throughout the semester, though changes can be made if necessary. For each assignment, we'll spend several class meetings working in these response groups. Here's how they'll work:

On days when response groups meet, each member of the group will share his or her draft of the current writing assignment with the other members of the group. Drafts can be shared in several ways: read aloud to the group; sent as email messages to the group; distributed as paper copies to the group. For the most part, we will be sharing our drafts electronically (that is, via email or the web).

Each student in a response group will read the drafts of the other members of the group and write a critique of each group member's draft for each assignment. A copy of that critique must be sent to the writer (see "Writing Responses to a Classmate's Draft" below), but you should also keep copies for yourself, since you will need them for your portfolio. After reading each other's drafts, the response groups will discuss each member's draft. For the most part, these discussions will focus on helping the writer improve the draft. During a typical session, the groups will spend about 10-15 minutes discussing each member's draft. As the semester goes on, if all goes well, response groups will meet informally outside class and/or discuss their writing via email.

After these sessions, group members will make revisions accordingly, accepting or rejecting their classmates' advice as they see fit. The purpose is to provide several points of view about how to make the essay stronger and to give each writer a sense of how readers are responding to her or his writing.

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Writing Responses to a Classmate's Draft

A key part of the response group's work will be to provide each student with written responses to the student's draft-in-progress. Please note that you are required to write a response to the drafts of each member of your response group for each writing assignment. Here's how this will work.

First, when you receive a draft from a member of your response group, whether you receive it via email or on disk or on paper, you will write a response to that draft and either send it as an email message to the writer or give a paper or disk copy to the writer. (Paper copies are discouraged, since your classmates will eventually have to turn any paper copies into electronic copies for the portfolio.) As noted above, you should give your written response to the writer prior to the response group discussion, so that the writer has had time to read your response and think about it. In addition, writers should bring copies of the critiques their group members wrote with them when they come to conference.

In short, for each writing assignment, you are responsible for reading the drafts of each of your response group members, writing a brief response to that draft, and sending that response as an email message to the writer; as writer, you should bring copies of your classmates' critiques to your conference with me.

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What to Write in a Response

In essence, your job as a reader of a classmate's draft is to provide reactions and advice that can help that classmate make her or his writing more effective. Here are some guidelines for doing that.

First, your responses should be at least 300 words in length. Sometimes you'll see a need to write more, but shorter responses are by and large unhelpful.

Second, your response should focus on issues that arose for you as you read your classmate's draft. Initially, focus on "global" issues: content, organization, focus. Then comment on matters of style. Keep in mind that this is a draft, so you don't need to "correct" errors of spelling, punctuation, and so on. However, if you see serious problems with sentence structure and grammar, point those out to the writer. Remember, though, that you are trying to respond as a reader to the gist of your classmate's essay; you are not an editor.

Be sure to begin your response by pointing out some of the things that worked well for you as a reader. Did the beginning draw you effectively into the essay? If so, tell the writer. Was there a scene that was especially vivid for you? Again, let the writer know. If you liked the way the argument held together, say so. Then move to problems you see: areas where you were confused, paragraphs that didn't work well, gaps in the discussion, missing bits of evidence, and so on.

Finally, offer the writer some advice for revision. Don't simply point out problems without suggesting ways to address those problems.

Remember, the more specific you can be in your response, the more helpful your response is likely to be to the writer. Think about the kinds of response you find most helpful to your own writing, and try to give that same kind of response to your classmate.

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Questions to Help You Respond Effectively to a Classmate's Draft

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you write your response to a classmate's draft:

Again, be as specific as you can in your responses. It doesn't help a writer when you say, "I liked it." Or "That was lame." The writer needs to know what specifically you liked and why. More important, the writer needs to know specifically what doesn't work for you and why..


Special Guidelines for Responding to the Inquiry Project Drafts

The Inquiry Project, which you will complete in the second half of the semester, requires slightly different kinds of responses than the other assignments. See the Guidelines for Responding to Inquiry Project Drafts.


Recap

Here are the highlights you need to keep in mind regarding your responses to your classmates' writing:


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